Family Law FAQs

1. Q: Why hire an attorney? Can't I do this myself?

A: In a word: Yes! It is possible for you to file all the paperwork and get things finalized on your own; however, the chances of error or inadvertently giving up your rights or property are very high due to the myriad of options available. What frequently occurs is that a person fills out his or her own paperwork and the court clerk rejects it because it is incomplete. And the irony is that the clerk cannot tell you what is wrong because that might involve giving legal advice, which he or she is prohibited from doing. Sometimes a person may have his or her paperwork rejected several times before it gets accepted - and this is just at the start of the process! It is a virtual guarantee that you will be highly frustrated by the process if you try to do it yourself.

You could hire one of the many "paralegals" who work in the area of family law, and he or she could fill out the paperwork for you. But a paralegal is limited to just that: filling out paperwork, and he or she cannot give you any advice regarding your rights, your obligations, or all of the possible "gotchas" that may come up because certain things were not done from the beginning. Unfortunately, there have been more bad than good "do-it-yourself" types of family law cases using a paralegal to complete the paperwork. This may not be the best option given the amount of fees a paralegal charges.

Various courts have "self-help centers" where someone can give you the right forms for your situation and even provide some documentation that explains how to fill out the forms. The challenge with self-help centers is that the volunteers who work at them cannot advise you about how to present your case or what would be a good or a bad way to proceed. All they can do is to provide the data to you so that you can do it yourself. This option may work if there are no children, no assets, no debts, and the marriage was of a very short duration.

The option to use "any old attorney" may help, but be aware of the attorneys who will take advantage of the emotions that are involved in any family matter. All too often, a lawyer will advise a client to take the opposing party "to the cleaners." In general, what this means is that the attorney is preparing to take the client (you) "to the cleaners."

There are good family law attorneys who handle only family law matters. These professionals are ethical and will advise you in a way that will help to keep your costs at a minimum. They will set aside the highly charged emotional issues and counsel you on your legal position as it relates to the practical matters of assets, debts, children and support.

Think about it this way: if you had a heart condition, would you make an appointment to see "any old doctor?" A general practitioner? A nurse? Or a friend down the street? Probably not. If you had a heart condition, you would see a cardiac specialist. Using the same logic, you will be better served to consult an attorney who handles only family matters rather than to try your luck with "any old lawyer," a paralegal, or a friend down the street.

If you believe you cannot afford to hire a divorce attorney, then please read the next FAQ for somelow cost divorce options.

2. Q: How much will it cost?

Below are three key issues which will affect the cost of a divorce:

1. Full Service Representation

2. Limited Representation

3. How much disagreement there is

Full Service Representation is just that. An attorney is hired to handle the issue(s) from start to finish. After an initial consultation, it may be possible for the attorney to provide an estimate of what the case may cost. Keep in mind that issues may arise that can force the estimate to be revised as your case progresses.

Limited Representation is a relatively new concept. Using this option, an attorney is hired to do a specific task. After that task has been completed, the attorney-client relationship, as well as the attorney's fees, end. This option can be useful if you need an attorney to just "draw up the paperwork," or if you need an attorney to help you with just one hearing or just one issue of your proceeding. The costs are greatly reduced for both sides with limited representation.

Amount of Disagreement. Here is where your budget will either be preserved or broken. If the other side decides to contest "every little thing," then your legal bills will multiply greatly! In the ideal situation, your opposing party would obtain legal representation who is ethical and cost-conscious. This office has worked with a number of fair-minded law firms that collaborate with our staff to reach a speedy resolution to an issue in an effort to keep the costs as low as possible. Unfortunately, we have also worked with firms that "paper" the client with frivolous, but legal, discovery motions. When working with a law firm whose representatives prefer to barrage the opposing party with endless court filings, we know that neither side is the winner because the amount of legal fees multiplies, and this leaves significantly less finances for the family after the divorce has been finalized.

3. Q: What are my other options if I can't afford an attorney?

A: As are most legal issues, the facts of your situation will determine what you can do. Nevertheless, there are two general options available when you can't afford an attorney. One is to have limited representation. That is explained in a little more detail here. Another option is to obtain payment from the other party. There are legal remedies where your legal fees may be paid in part or in full by the opposing party. By consulting with an attorney, these and other options may be explored. Feel free to contact us should you have any questions. We are here to help!

4. Q: What does the law say about how much child support and/or spousal support I can get?

California requires all parents to support their children (whether born within a marriage or outside of a marriage or by adoption). The amount of child support depends primarily on each parent's income and other resources and how much time each parent spends with the children. That's why each situation is very unique. As a general rule, the more time you spend with the children, the more support you would receive; and the more income a parent makes the more he or she is expected to contribute towards the child's support. Of course, the courts are very much aware of the "tricks people play." Tricks like hiding income, spending an exorbitant amount of money, or quitting a job in order to avoid paying support, etc. These types of inappropriate actions must be made known to the court so that the children can receive all the support the law provides for them.

Spousal support is a little less challenging. Yet this too needs to be carefully considered and negotiated. California allows for the lower earning spouse to be supported by the higher earning spouse according to their "standard of living." Needless to say, this opens up a world of possibilities. Rather than to go through a lengthy and expensive process to determine things like standard of living, earning capacity, what-ifs, etc., many times we find it much more cost effective to negotiate a spousal support agreement with appropriate safeguards for death, remarriage, inflation, taxes, etc.

Lastly, you may have heard of the "10 year" spousal support rule which implies that "if you are married for more than 10 years, then you are guaranteed spousal support for life." This is just not true. In fact, to make this assumption is a common mistake, even among many lawyers! It is possible to have been married for 20 years and still walk away without having to pay any spousal support! If your marriage has been longer than 10 years in duration, then you should definitely seek family law counsel before damaging your family finances for the rest of your life.

5. Q: What about child custody? If I am the dad, can I get custody of my children?

A: The short answer is: YES. But a little background first.

California segregates child custody into two areas: legal and physical. Legal custody relates to who has the power to make decisions for the minor child. Decisions like school choice, medical care/treatment, religious preference, activities to participate in, etc. When separated parents are able to work well together, California prefers to grant a 50-50 decision making authority. Parents are expected, and should, decide together on what is best for the child. When both parents can't reach a mutual decision, the parent who spends a greater percentage of time with the child will generally prevail in making the "legal" decisions for the child.

The other important issue of custody is physical custody. This hotly contested area involves deciding who will have the child the majority of the time; in other words, under which parent's roof the child will call "home." The issues involved here are many: financial ability and support, emotional support, preference of the child, parent with the better parenting skills, domestic abuse/violence, tax implications, standard of living, absent parents, cooperative parents and many other considerations; and above all, "what's in the best interest of the child(ren)?"

Good legal counsel will seek to minimize further emotional damage to the children during a custody dispute. There are a number of lawyers who simply do not care about the damage to the child. Thankfully, the law, the courts, and some family law attorneys DO care and DO seek the best interests of the child. Sometimes that means that the children are better served by living in a 50-50 arrangement or solely with the dad and allowing professionally monitored visits with the mom. Suffice it to say, there are a range of options. Good legal advice will open up that world of options to you.

6. Q: How are our assets divided?

The answer to this question is both easy and hard. The easy answer: all assets acquired during the marriage are divided 50-50. That's it!

The challenge comes when one person brings in some property that he or she acquired before the marriage. For example, a lady buys a house in the year 2000. She gets married in 2002 and her husband moves in. Then they refinance the house a couple of times. Now they are getting a divorce and need to split up the house. Do they split it 50-50? Should the wife get it all since it was her home to begin with? Does the husband have an interest in the house since it was his credit that allowed it to get refinanced and he used some of his prior-to-marriage money to pay down the loan?

7. Q: How long will the divorce process take?

The soonest you could be "legally divorced" is 6 months from the date the other party receives notice of the divorce. This fulfills the legal requirement to wait 6 months.

For practical matters, a divorce could be wrapped up in as soon as just a few days. If both parties can agree on how to settle things, then a few days to review the paperwork and submit it to the court would be all that's needed.

In other cases, the process could go on for two, three, or more years. This is especially true when one side refuses to cooperate on any issue and/or when the attorney flames the passions of his or her client to fight everything that comes up.

In general, this office sees the average case taking anywhere from one to 8 months.

8. Q: What is mediation? Should I consider it?

As it relates to family law, this is a process whereby both parties attempt to settle a matter (whether dissolution, custody/visitation, support, property division, etc.) without resorting to the entire legal/court process. Mediation can be highly successful, save tens-of-thousands of dollars, and relieve much of the stress and angst that family issues tend to bring up.

This office highly encourages mediation for many family law matters. Especially when there are children involved.

9. Q: If I am involved in a domestic partnership, should I hire an attorney to settle the termination of the relationship?

The same considerations for the dissolution of marriage should be considered in terminating a domestic partnership. While there is a separate body of the Family Law Code that relates to domestic partnerships, this office recommends that persons who are legally registered partners seek at least a consultation with a competent family law attorney in order to go over their issues as they relate to this ever-changing area of the law.

Also, please see the above FAQ, "Why hire an attorney?"

10. Q: What can Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, GeoTagging, MySpace, and other Social Media do to me or for me in a family law case?

In a short summary: A Whole Lot of Damage!

You could destroy your own case quickly by your posts on social media Web sites such as Facebook, Instagram, etc. A recent study shows that 80% of family law attorneys have presented some form of social media evidence in their court cases!

While we recommend to clients that they shut down, deactivate, and permanently delete their social media Web sites/links, we realize that this is not always in the best interest of the client. So what is a person supposed to do to minimize the damage that social media might do to his or her case? Here are some suggestions to start with:

1. Change your login passwords.

2. Password lock your computers, smart phones, notepads, etc.

3. Be anonymous during your legal process (go dark!)

4. Change your privacy settings to "private" (rather than viewable by all the public).

5. Remove/Unfriend/Delist your ex-spouse/partner.

6. Permanently delete all message traffic (especially in Facebook, which can save thousands of messages in its archives!)

7. Stop Geo-Tagging your locations.

8. Don't brag about your legal wins/victories!

9. Don't badmouth the other side (no matter how much he or she deserves it or how true it is!)

10. If you suspect you are being electronically watched, then have your electronic equipment scanned by a tech-expert for "spyware." You'd be surprised how often "X's" use cyber-snooping software to watch and monitor you!

Of course, a good, technologically aware family law attorney can help to further limit your social media exposure, so be sure to bring this up during your consultation.

11. Q. How can I contact your firm for a consultation?

Contact us for a free consultation.